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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Bob Fingerman…’From the Ashes’

Bob Fingerman is best known for his comic series Minimum Wage (Fantagraphics Books), as well as the graphic novel White Like She (also Fantagraphics). In 2010 the collected edition of From the Ashes (IDW), a “speculative memoir” featuring Bob and his wife Michele in post-apocalyptic NYC, was released.

His second novel, Pariah, comes out from Tor in July. He will also have a short story in the eagerly anticipated zombie anthology The Living Dead 2 (Night Shade Books).

SF Signal has the opportunity to talk to Bob about the apocalypse, zombies and mutants. Oh my!

Jeff Patterson: Post-Apocalypse stories have roots as dystopian cautionary tales, but in the last few years the Post-Apocalyptic Comedy has become quite the robust sub-genre in film and comics. What about it appeals to you? And why do you think it appeals to audiences?

Bob Fingerman: Has it? I must have missed all of it. Unless you mean that hilarious comedy movie, The Road. I kid. I haven’t seen it yet, but I gather it’s somewhat lacking in chuckles. Has there been an uptick in PA comedy? Other than Peter Bagge’s Apocalypse Nerd I haven’t seen any. I’d like to, though. All approaches to post-apocalypse entertainment hold great appeal for me. I just love the genre. Maybe not so much in reality, but as a backdrop it can’t be beat. You have modern people thrust back into medieval times, but still craving their iPhones and what have you. It’s freedom from the status quo, but with plenty of peril and challenge. And if, like me, you choose to furnish your wasteland with mutants and the living dead, it’s too much fun. As for audiences, who knows? I just think we as a species are equally attracted to and terrified by the prospect of it all going kerflooey.

JP: In From the Ashes, as opposed to your previous forays into zombiedom, your mutants and assorted deformed characters are the most human and compassionate, while the ones who retain their physical form (aside from you and your wife) are the most monstrous. Was that planned from the start?

BF: Absolutely. It’s kind of a very literal nod to the line in Repo Man about “ordinary fucking people.” The mutants and reanimated dead aren’t ordinary. They’re suited to live in this new, post-atomic world. It’s Darwinism as satirical comic book fun. If I ever do a sequel I’ll go further with that.

JP: Science fiction tropes and concepts regularly appear in your work. Do you ever want to delve deeper into the genre? Or any other genres, for that matter?

BF: Well, the more I do the deeper I delve, I guess. Just as a matter of course. And tenacity. My next novel, Pariah (Tor, August 2010), is a zombie riff. It’s straighter than other work I’ve done, but still laced with gallows humor. I can’t help myself, apparently. I thought I’d played it pretty straight but it’s billed by the publisher as “darkly comedic” and I’ve gotten a few compliments from other writers on how funny parts of it were. So what do I know? I think it’s a pretty fresh take, though. Adds a new wrinkle or two. I plan on writing some non-genre literary stuff at some point. Some more graphic novels, too. I have several such projects in mind, but right now I want to keep playing in the genre sandbox.

JP: Even at its darkest (which is pretty dark) From the Ashes retains a light-hearted touch. I came away from it with the impression that you weren’t gunning for laughs about slave labor and breeding camps, but rather the idea of you and your wife enduring these horrible situations. Is that the case? And if so, did you draw a line somewhere? Was there anything you were unwilling to subject your fictional self to?

BF: Anal rape? I dunno. I would subject my two-dimensional self to a lot if it got laughs. As for slave labor and breeding camps, I’d say the humor is there, too. Maybe not in and of itself, but contextually. It’s all about how the characters react to their situations. Yeah. It’s situation comedy. That’s all. Not a lot of comedy to be mined in happy situations. Happiness is a real comedy killer.

JP: I’d like to talk about style and technique if I could. Your recent art has a lovely charcoal-sketch quality to it, compared to the bold sleek lines of your 1990’s work. Are you more comfortable in either style?

BF: I’m way more comfortable with my present approach. It took me years to gain the chops and confidence to just abandon my pens and inking and just go with pencil and tone. It’s much livelier, I think.

JP: There are some distinctive traits to the composition in this book, like the consistent use of involved backgrounds (I counted a total of three frames without them) and rather cinematic framing. Did you go into this project with a style or structure in mind?

BF: Well, yes. I mean, I thumbnail everything first. But I did the majority of the book in a sort of “widescreen” panel style. “Letterboxed,” if you will. I am not the most cinematic visual storyteller, but in this case I was thinking about framing it like I’d want it shot as a movie. And I like background detail. It just situates your characters and the reader.

JP: After reading a lot of digitally rendered and colored comics, the organic style of From the Ashes can be refreshing or disorienting. Was there any digital component to the art?

BF: Definitely, but if it’s invisible that’s the point. The art was done, as said, in pencil, but a lot of the tonal work is added in Photoshop, using my own hand-done Conte crayon textures. So, it’s organic texture used digitally. Old and new in unison. And the few color pages were watercolor. So, a little old, a little new…

JP: What comics have you been reading lately? And what’s your impression of the current comics landscape?

BF: Just read Peter Bagge’s latest graphic novel, Other Lives. I enjoyed it. And Clowes’s new one, Wilson. Bleak, but thoroughly enjoyable. My favorite recent purchase was the sixth (and, sadly, final) installment of my hero, Moebius’s latest series of books, Inside Moebius. At seventy he shows no sign of slowing down and his art is as fresh as ever. He’s amazing. I have no real impression of the comics landscape in general, though. There’s some exciting stuff on the horizon (new Charles Burns and Jim Woodring on the horizon), but not much of the new generation of comics work impresses me. I don’t respond well to preciousness.

JP: You put together a compelling little group of mutated supporting characters by book’s end. Any chance we’ll see their further adventures?

BF: I hope so.

JP: Would you really like to grow a tail?

BF: A useful, prehensile one? Sure, why not?

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